BitDepth#906 - October 08

Canadian film set stills photographer Rafy shares her career path and secrets of the trade with local photographers.
Behind the scenes with Rafy
Rafy speaks to local photographers at Nalis. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

The photographer who shot the hard edged imagery for the most recent instalment of Resident Evil was, surprisingly, a little sad as she reminisced about how she began in the business, working with film.
“That was when you had to know something about photography to do photography,” she remarked quietly, with a rueful smile.

Rafy, the
Canadian film set photographer, who offers no last name (IMDB offers Winterseld as a surname) prefers to be known by the name that appears on a long list of film credits, including most recently, Home Again and Pan, a local feature film currently in production.

She left analog image capture behind long ago, switching to digital after working with
film set photographer David James on the film version of the musical Chicago. She struck up a friendship with James and he coached her on the new medium, becoming the first Canadian photographer to go digital.
In an information rich talk given to local photographers on September 27 at Nalis, Rafy shared her experiences since then, giving what she acknowledged as her first talk about the business.

Rafy warns that the work requires a special mix of people skills on ego driven sets and hard negotiating with budget conscious studios to stand any chance of success, but it’s possible to make a living in the business and even to leverage it into work that satisfies personal goals.
While photographing on the Home Again set, she met Wayne Jordan during scenes at the Beetham Estate and began the process of connecting with residents in the area.

Rafy is currently pursuing a personal project capturing portraits of Beetham Estate residents and has returned to the country five times since then, adding to work that’s scheduled for display at Nalis next year.
To the assembled group of photographers seeking her professional guidance on the business, she offered simple, direct advice.
“Work on student films first,” Rafy advised, “learn how it works, learn set etiquette. You will never use a flash on set, for instance, and your best friend will be the focus puller.”

Photographers working on a film set are capturing slices of the film, often from a unique perspective for publicity purposes, and often portraits of the principals.
“You need to know how to light, and it helps if you aren’t shy,” she said.
Still shooters on a film can expect to work 70 hours a week on a feature set and then add editing and post processing on top of that time.

Sho0ters can do the work with as little as two bodies and three fast zoom lenses, but you cannot shoot a movie while it’s rolling without a sound blimp, which masks the sound of the shutter from live sound recording.
“You have to disappear, but you have to get the pictures,” she said.
“Imagine a book being made of the making of the movie,” Rafy suggested. “Those are the pictures you have to take.”

Rafy works for union scale pay in Canada, which is about Can $42 per hour. On a good movie with adequate experience, that can go as high as triple scale with expenses and she has made as much as $1,500 per day on a Hollywood film being made in Canada.
On a film like Resident Evil: Afterlife, that meant generating as many as 1,500 stills per day, including “specials” the images that get considered for posters and key art in the promotion of the film.

In addition, the studio producing the film owns all the rights to everything that’s shot on the set. A set photographer can’t sell the work, or use it online until the film is released and even then, it must be posted with the studio’s copyright.
Rafy doesn’t always work on big films though, as her participation in the local film industry indicates.

I’d worked on two films shot in T&T, as a photojournalist for Owen Baptiste’s People Magazine story on the exrecable bikini-exploitation film
Gold of the Amazon Women and as a publicity photographer for Gerard Joseph’s Men of Gray: Flight of the Ibis. I was struck by how dull the work was.
Rafy fills downtime on the set transferring images and doing preliminary edits.
“You don’t ever want to be the person who’s sitting down or sleeping,” she warned.

She often chooses small films and documentaries when she has a good feeling about them and counts her experiences on Home Again as one of the more rewarding experiences in her life.
She has also served as the director of photography for the Toronto Film Festival for several years and is an enthusiastic supporter of the work that local producer Lisa Wickham is doing in film education.

“I really hope that this is the beginning of more collaboration in film education between T&T and Canada,” Rafy said with a broad smile that seemed to capture all the joy and satisfaction that she’s experienced working in this country.
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